Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Christopher Hibbert

I called Helen Szirtes today to talk about her notes on my latest book. Helen has been great to work with on my Bloomsbury books and I'm very happy to be working with her again on this one. Now I need to knuckle down and get on with the changes.

I was very sorry to read of the death of Christopher Hibbert. The challenge in writing historical fiction is to feel comfortable in the period in which you are setting the book. For this to be the case you need lots of information about the details of life: what do people wear, what do they eat, how do they eat and so on. If I have a character stepping into a street, I want to be able to visualise that street, the buildings, the people, the animals, the smells and sounds. The more convinced I am of these things, the more convincingly I will describe them in my book.

There are certain writers who bring certain periods or places or peoples to life. N A M Rodgers' books on the British navy are fantastic. I am constantly delving into Liza Picard's books about London. More than anything you need to feel secure in the historian's knowledge, and I trusted Christopher Hibbert's expertise completely.

Hibbert wrote really well about the eighteenth century, a period I have explored a few times, with my Tom Marlowe adventures for Random House and with Jail-breaker Jack, my non-fiction book about Jack Sheppard. It was Hibbert, together with Roy Porter, who helped me to get a feel for this extraordinary period in British history.

Hibbert wrote a wonderful book about Jack Sheppard called The Road to Tyburn, which was reissued a while ago as a Penguin Classic History. It is not only a fascinating piece of social history, it is also a very fine piece of writing.

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